Skip to main content

Sustainable Smart Mobile Devices Lifecycles through Advanced Re-design, Reliability, and Re-use and Remanufacturing Technologies

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - sustainablySMART (Sustainable Smart Mobile Devices Lifecycles through Advanced Re-design, Reliability, and Re-use and Remanufacturing Technologies)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2019-10-31

sustainablySMART changes the lifecycle of mobile information and communication technology devices by developing new product design approaches. This includes enhanced end-of-life performance, re-use and remanufacturing aspects considered on the product and printed circuit board level, as well as new re-/de-manufacturing processes with improved resource efficiency.
Mobile products, such as smartphones and tablets, feature a significant environmental footprint whilst having a product life of few years only. Moreover, electronic devices incorporate scarce and valuable resources, which by now cannot be recovered efficiently.
Consequently, only keeping those products or components ‘alive’ allows continuous efficient use of the once invested natural resources and emitted greenhouse gases. This approach implements the idea of a ‘circular economy’, which subsumes approaches for keeping resources, materials, components and products in the industrial cycle beyond a first use phase.
Modularized smartphones are a promising concept as they are easy to disassemble, to upgrade and to repair. Technically this calls for standardized interfaces.
At the end of first life of mobile products it is a challenge to tap into the upcoming wave of waste mobile ICT devices. This is a perfect timing to invest in research to reuse and refurbish these products with sophisticated technologies. Apart, we consider technological evolution toward the Internet of Things, which may provide a wide field for cascade re-use of single components. Due to high volume of sensitive personal and corporate data stored on modern smartphones, it is extremely important to ensure data privacy on retired electronics.
Major goals have been achieved in both domains of the project: To design products for a Circular Economy and to keep (existing) products in a Circular Economy.
Modularity of the Fairphone 2 has demonstrated to enhance recyclability of materials significantly. A Life Cycle Assessment analyzed the environmental impacts of going modular: Additional connectors, printed circuit board area and module housing do not come for free, but increase the environmental footprint of production. This additional footprint is easily offset through a better reparability, thus longer assumed use time of the phone. These findings inspired the design of a follow-up model of the Fairphone.
Circular Devices developed a connector solution for the modular concept of a Puzzlephone and filed a related patent. This is a major step towards modularity of information technology devices. The modular connector solution is demonstrated on the example of an Internet-of-Things gateway device.
For SMEs it is challenging to get sustainable high-tech products off the ground. High investment to ramp up production is a barrier. MicroPro developed a tablet to overcome this barrier. Design of the housing and main structural parts took into account the manufacturing capabilities of sophisticated FabLabs or similar digital workshop environments. MicroPro assembled a pilot batch of 30 units of this D4R tablet to demonstrate the feasibility of such a small scale production through partnering with other production environments (for wood and metal working respectively). This device has been tested successfully against CE criteria and was subject to a user testing campaign, which yielded feedback on how to set up a future exploitation strategy.
Splitting the functionality of mobile IT devices in distinct modular building blocks reduces complexity of the main printed circuit board and facilitates repair and servicing of a device. The PCB of a voice recorder has been redesigned to accommodate four distinct modules, including a backbone board, a processor module, a power module, and an USB connector module being produced as prototypes and merged in a joint assembly. Embedding technology is the enabler to build miniaturized board level modules. AT&S produced a prototype of a reversible interconnection technology.
According to Blancco’s findings devices in second-hand markets and resold through reburbishers are still prone to improper data sanitization. Moreover, evaluation of default factory reset processes also showed data partially or in full present on some Android phones. Therefore, two concepts of erasure solutions have been developed and verified externally to tackle this problem. One method is meant for devices which will be reused as a whole and the second for those where only internal memory will be repurposed.
Batteries contained in a used product might still be good for reuse and repurposing. Fraunhofer IZM investigated ageing models and now the state-of-health can be determined by knowing the history of such a battery. A software interface extracts instantly battery state-of-health data from those mobile batteries, which are equipped with a smart battery chip.
As long as products with significantly enhanced modularization and thus reparability, recyclability and reusability do not hit the market at large, end-of-life processes need to be advanced: Automated sorting of smartphones for remanufacturing and component reuse requires gentle handling. Feeders have been investigated and are ready for implementation in a sorting process, including optical model recognition. The disassembly step features a collaborative robotics platform. TUW calculated a range of scenarios to guide a potential set up of a larger disassembly cluster. Extraction of boards is followed by desoldering of semiconductors (Ball Grid Array components). The individual rework steps for BGAs have been implemented on lab scale and demonstrators, incorporating reused semiconductor components, passed manufac
The modularization approach goes beyond the reparability focus implemented by now with the Fairphone 2: PuzzleCompatible standard interfaces are defined, which will allow various players to contribute to the development of compatible modules. Adapted tablet design will enable FabLab-type manufacturing hubs to assemble high-tech products. Both strategies, that of the PuzzlePhone and that for the D4R tablet are supposed to reshore production of electronics back to Europe. sustainablySMART demonstrates for the first time, how embedding technology can act as a facilitator of modularization on the printed circuit board level, which is key to address design for a Circular Economy on board level.
Advanced sorting and collaborative disassembly technology is demonatrated to significantly lower processing times for disassembly of smartphones and component extraction, either for repair or for repurposing parts for new applications. These innovations will open new markets for refurbishers and other players at end-of-first-life, and thus creates new employment opportunities.
Although rework of used semiconductor components as such is not new, process and product quality are crucial. Processes developed by ITR and Semicon demonstrate the feasibility of desoldering and reworking components at high quality standards for a secondary market. Besides an economic dimension this approach particularly helps to keep electronics components in the loop, which have been produced once with a huge environmental footprint.
These innovations influence product policy, such as the EU Eco-design Directive and standardization activities.
X-ray image of modular Fairphone 3
Reparability assessment session at CARE Innovation conference 2018
Project logo sustainablySMART
Collaborative disassembly robot by ProAutomation
Panel with DSP Modules of the Digital Voice Recorder featuring embedded and SMT components
Mobile World Congress press conference on Fairphone 2 (by courtesy of Fairphone / Sindre Hopland)
Prototype of a D4R tablet by MicroPro (pilot batch, CE compliance tested)